The Infinite Matrix
 

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an excerpt from
down and out in
the magic kingdom
 
by Cory Doctorow
 
  illustration
 

The Liberty Square ad-hocs were the staunchest conservatives in the Magic Kingdom, preserving the wheezing technology in the face of a Park that changed almost daily. The newcomer/old-timers were on-side with the rest of the Park, had their support, and looked like they might make a successful go of it.

It fell to my girlfriend Lil to make sure that there were no bugs in the meager attractions of Liberty Square: the Hall of the Presidents, the Liberty Belle riverboat, and the glorious Haunted Mansion, arguably the coolest attraction to come from the fevered minds of the old-time Disney Imagineers.

Lil was second-generation Disney World, her parents being among the original ad-hocracy that took over the management of Liberty Square and Tom Sawyer Island. She was, quite literally, raised in Walt Disney World and it showed. She was neat and efficient in her every little thing, from her shining red hair to her careful accounting of each gear and cog in the animatronics that are in her charge. Her folks were in canopic jars in Kissimmee, deadheading for a few centuries.

I caught her backstage at the Hall of the Presidents, tinkering with Lincoln II, the backup animatronic. Lil tried to keep two of everything running at speed, just in case. She could swap out a dead 'bot for a backup in five minutes flat, which is all that crowd-control would permit.

It had been two weeks since Dan's arrival, and though I'd barely seen him in that time, his presence was vivid in our lives. Our little ranch-house had a new smell, not unpleasant, of rejuve and hope and loss, something barely noticeable over the tropical flowers nodding in front of our porch. My phone rang three or four times a day, Dan checking in from his rounds of the Park, seeking out some way to accumulate personal capital. His excitement and dedication to the task were inspiring, pulling me into his over-the-top-and-damn-the-torpedoes mode of being.

"You just missed Dan," she said. She had her head in Lincoln's chest, working with an autosolder and a magnifier. Bent over, red hair tied back in a neat bun, sweat sheening her wiry freckled arms, smelling of girl-sweat and machine lubricant, she made me wish there were a mattress somewhere backstage. I settled for patting her behind affectionately, and she wriggled appreciatively. "He's looking better."

His rejuve had taken him back to apparent 25, the way I remembered him. He was rawboned and leathery, but still had the defeated stoop that had startled me when I saw him at the Adventurer's Club. "What did he want?"

"He's been hanging out with Debra — he wanted to make sure I knew what she's up to."

Debra was one of the old guard, a former comrade of Lil's parents. She'd spent a decade in Disneyland Beijing, coding sim-rides. If she had her way, we'd tear down every marvelous rube goldberg in the Park and replace them with pristine white sim boxes on giant, articulated servos.

The problem was that she was really good at coding sims. Her Great Movie Ride rehab at MGM was breathtaking — the Star Wars sequence had already inspired a hundred fan-sites that fielded millions of hits.

"So, what's she up to?"

Lil extracted herself from the Rail-Splitter's mechanical guts and made a comical moue of worry. "She's rehabbing the Pirates — and doing an incredible job. They're ahead of schedule, they've got good net-buzz, the focus groups are cumming themselves." The comedy went out of her expression, baring genuine worry.

She turned away and closed up Honest Abe, then fired her finger at him. Smoothly, he began to run through his spiel, silent but for the soft hum and whine of his servos. Lil mimed twiddling a knob and his audiotrack kicked in low: "All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined could not, by force, make a track on the Blue Ridge, nor take a drink from the Ohio. If destruction be our lot, then we ourselves must be its author — and its finisher." She mimed turning down the gain and he fell silent again.

"You said it, Mr. President," she said, and fired her finger at him again, powering him down. She bent and adjusted his hand-sewn period topcoat, then carefully wound and set the turnip-watch in his vest-pocket.

I put my arm around her shoulders. "You're doing all you can — and it's good work," I said. I'd fallen into the easy castmember mode of speaking, voicing bland affirmations. Hearing the words, I felt a flush of embarrassment. I pulled her into a long, hard hug and fumbled for better reassurance. Finding no words that would do, I gave her a final squeeze and let her go.

She looked at me sidelong and nodded her head. "It'll be fine, of course," she said. "I mean, the worst possible scenario is that Debra will do her job very, very well, and make things even better than they are now. That's not so bad."

This was a 180-degree reversal of her position on the subject the last time we'd talked, but you don't live more than a century without learning when to point out that sort of thing and when not to.

My cochlea struck twelve noon and a HUD appeared with my weekly backup reminder. Lil was maneuvering Ben Franklin II out of his niche. I waved good-bye at her back and walked away, to an uplink terminal. Once I was close enough for secure broadband communications, I got ready to back up. My cochlea chimed again and I answered it.

"Yes," I subvocalized, impatiently. I hated getting distracted from a backup — one of my enduring fears was that I'd forget the backup altogether and leave myself vulnerable for an entire week until the next reminder. I'd lost the knack of getting into habits in my adolescence, giving in completely to machine-generated reminders over conscious choice.

"It's Dan." I heard the sound of the Park in full swing behind him — children's laughter; bright, recorded animatronic spiels; the tromp of thousands of feet. "Can you meet me at the Tiki Room? It's pretty important."

"Can it wait for fifteen?" I asked.

"Sure — see you in fifteen."

I rung off and initiated the backup. A status-bar zipped across a HUD, dumping the parts of my memory that were purely digital; then it finished and started in on organic memory. My eyes rolled back in my head and my life flashed before my eyes.


After I was shot dead at the Tiki Room, I had the opportunity to appreciate the great leaps that restores had made in the intervening ten years since my last death. I woke in my own bed, instantly aware of the events that led up to my death as seen from various third-party POVs: security footage from the Adventureland cameras, synthesized memories extracted from Dan's own backup, and a computer-generated fly-through of the scene. I woke feeling preternaturally calm and cheerful, and knowing that I felt that way because of certain temporary neurotransmitter presets that had been put in place when I was restored.

Dan and Lil sat at my bedside. Lil's tired, smiling face was limned with hairs that had snuck loose of her pony-tail. She took my hand and kissed the smooth knuckles. I dug for words appropriate to the scene, decided to wing it, opened my mouth and said, to my surprise, "I have to pee."

Dan and Lil smiled at each other. I lurched out of the bed, naked, and thumped to the bathroom. My muscles were surprisingly limber, with a brand-new spring to them. After I flushed I leaned over and took hold of my ankles, then pulled my head right to the floor, feeling the marvelous flexibility of my back and legs and buttocks. A scar on my knee was missing, as were the many lines that had crisscrossed my fingers. When I looked in the mirror, I saw that my nose and earlobes were smaller and perkier. The familiar crows-feet and the frown-lines between my eyebrows were gone. I had a day's beard all over — head, face, pubis, arms, legs. I ran my hands over my body and chuckled at the ticklish newness of it all. I was briefly tempted to depilate all over, just to keep this feeling of newness forever, but the neurotransmitter presets were evaporating and a sense of urgency over my murder was creeping up on me.

I tied a towel around my waist and made my way back to the bedroom. The smells of tile-cleaner and flowers and rejuve were bright in my nose, effervescent as camphor. Dan and Lil stood when I came into the room and helped me to the bed. "Well, this sucks," I said. I ran the bare, soft soles of my new feet over the tile and considered the circumstances of my latest death.

After the backup uplink, I'd headed straight for Liberty Square through the utilidors. Three quick cuts of security cam footage told the story, one at the uplink, one in the corridor, and one at the exit in the underpass between Liberty Square and Adventureland. I seemed bemused and a little sad as I emerged from the door, and began to weave my way through the crowd, using a kind of sinuous, darting shuffle that I'd developed when I was doing field-work on my crowd-control thesis. I cut rapidly through the lunchtime crowd toward the long roof of the Tiki Room, thatched with strips of shimmering aluminum cut and painted to look like long grass.

Fuzzy shots now, from Dan's POV, of me moving closer to him, passing close to a group of teenaged girls with extra elbows and knees, wearing environmentally controlled cloaks and cowls covered with Epcot Center logos. One of them is wearing a pith helmet, from the Jungle Traders shop outside of the Jungle Cruise. Dan's gaze flicks away, to the Tiki Room's entrance, where there is a short queue of older men, then back, just as the girl with the pith helmet draws a stylish little organic pistol, like a penis with a tail that coils around her arm. Casually, grinning, she raises her arm and gestures with the pistol, exactly like Lil does with her finger when she's uploading, and the pistol lunges forward. Dan's gaze flicks back to me. I'm pitching over, my lungs bursting out of my chest and spreading before me like wings, spinal gristle and viscera showering the guests before me. A piece of my nametag, now shrapnel, strikes Dan in the forehead, causing him to blink. When he looks again, the group of girls is still there, but the girl with the pistol is gone.

The fly-through is far less confused. Everyone except me, Dan and the girl are grayed-out. We're limned in highlighter yellow, moving in slow-motion. I emerge from the underpass and the girl moves from the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse to the group of her friends, Dan starts to move towards me. The girl raises, arms and fires her pistol. A self-guiding smart-slug, keyed to my body chemistry, flies low, near ground-level, weaving among the feet of the crowd, moving just below the speed of sound. When it reaches me, it screams upwards and into my spine, detonating once it's entered my chest-cavity.

The girl has already made a lot of ground, back toward the Adventureland/Main Street, USA gateway. The fly-through speeds up, following her as she merges with the crowds on the street, ducking and weaving between them, moving toward the breezeway at Sleeping Beauty Castle. She vanishes, then reappears, forty minutes later, in Tomorrowland, near the new Space Mountain complex, then disappears again.

"Has anyone ID'd the girl?" I asked, once I'd finished reliving the events. The anger was starting to boil within me now. My new fists clenched for the first time, soft palms and uncallused fingertips.

Dan shook his head. "None of the girls she was with had ever seen her before. The face was one of the Seven Sisters — Hope." The Seven Sisters were a trendy collection of designer faces. Every second teenage girl wore one of them.

"How about Jungle Traders?" I asked. "Did they have a record of the pith helmet purchase?"

Lil frowned. "We ran the Jungle Traders purchases back for six months: only three matched the girl's apparent age; all three have alibis. Chances are she stole it."

"Why?" I asked, finally. In my mind's eye, I saw my lungs bursting out of my chest, like wings, like jellyfish, vertebrae spraying like shrapnel. I saw the girl's smile, an almost sexual smirk as she pulled the trigger on me.

"It wasn't random," Lil said. "The slug was definitely keyed to you — that means that she'd gotten close enough to sample you at some point."

Right — which meant that she'd been to Disney World in the last ten years. That sure narrowed it down.

"What happened to her after Tomorrowland?" I said.

"We don't know," Lil said. "Something wrong with the cameras. We lost her and she never reappeared." She sounded hot and angry — she took equipment failures in the Magic Kingdom very personally.

"Who'd want to do this?" I asked, hating the self-pity in my voice. It was the first time I'd been murdered, but I didn't need to be a drama-queen about it.

Dan's eyes got a far-away look. "Sometimes, people do things for reasons that seem perfectly reasonable to them, that the rest of the world couldn't hope to understand. I've seen a few assassinations, and they never made sense afterwards." He stroked his chin. "Sometimes, it's better look for temperament, rather than motivation: who could do something like this?"

Right. All we needed to do was investigate all the psychopaths who'd visited the Magic Kingdom in ten years. That narrowed it down considerably. I pulled up a HUD and checked the time. It had been four days since my murder. I had a shift coming up, working the turnstiles at the Haunted Mansion. I liked to pull a couple of those shifts a month, just to keep myself grounded; it helped to take a reality-check while I was churning away in the rarified climate of my crowd-control simulations.

I stood and went to my closet, started to dress.

"What are you doing?" Lil asked, alarmed.

"I've got a shift. I'm running late."

"You're in no shape to work," Lil said, tugging at my elbow. I jerked free of her.

"I'm fine — good as new." I barked a humorless laugh. "I'm not going to let those bastards disrupt my life any more."

Those bastards? I thought — when had I decided that there was more than one? But I knew it was true. There was no way that this was all planned by one person: it had been executed too precisely, too thoroughly.

Dan moved to block the bedroom door. "Wait a second," he said. "You need rest."

I fixed him with a doleful glare. "I'll decide that," I said. He stepped aside.

"I'll tag along, then," he said. "Just in case."

I pinged my Whuffie. I was up a couple percentiles — sympathy Whuffie — but it was falling: Dan and Lil were radiating disapproval. Screw 'em.

I got into my runabout and Dan scrambled for the passenger door as I put it in gear and sped out.

 

[ Part 1 ]    [ Part 2 ]


Cory Doctorow has been writing and selling science fiction for a dozen years or so, and after a blizzard of stories appeared, in 1998, 1999, and 2000, in Asimovís Science Fiction, SF Age, Interzone, Amazing, On Spec, and other magazines, a grateful public awarded him the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He is the author, with Karl Schroeder, of The Complete Idiotís Guide to Publishing Science Fiction, and his articles have appeared in Wired, Speculations, and other magazines. Cory blogs for boingboing, works for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and generally keeps busy. You can find out more on his website, Craphound.com, if he ever gets around to updating it.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom was published in January, 2003, by Tor Books. A free download of the entire book is available on Craphound. (If you're running the moody and despised Netscape 4.76, hit Reload after you get there.) 75,000 copies were downloaded in the first month of publication. Whoo-ee!

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